17 November 2006

Stylin' and Profilin'

Ok, I'm cruising into work this morning, (ok, not CRUISING exactly -- more like driving 72 mph trying to make it to work on time because no matter what time I set the alarm clock for or how early I get up my karma is preset to not leave home until EXACTLY 7 minutes AFTER I should have already left) and I pass this big truck with a hopper wagon on it, all lit up. By "all lit up" I mean it had the chicken lights all over the wagon (lots of lights down the side and through the middle.) The whole point of this is that it reminded me of one of my best friends and the time she hauled a hopper wagon.
Now, when I drove, I hauled a bulk tank (looks kinda like a thermos bottle) and also hopper wagons. I used to talk to her while I was driving (headset only -- trying to be a safe driver) and tell her how cool it was to be a hopper hauler or a tanker yanker. She always used to laugh at me, but there IS a hierarchy out there in the transportation world.
I had perfected my "grain hauler walk". When I was fueling and would finish and pull up, I'd get out and start the trek up to the fuel station. (In 5'2" terms - about 6.3 miles because it was always only an end island that was open.) I'd take off at a medium pace (it wasn't cool to walk really fast - even in subzero weather) stretch my legs just a bit, shoulders back and do a John Wayne kinda gait. It was noticed. Angie thought I was silly, until the day she met up with me at the J in Millersport and SAW the walk. Then it was "dammit girl" and whatnot! Even SHE had to admit that grain haulers looked pretty cool.
Hauling grain is not an easy job. Ok, driving truck is not easy, period. I'll give props to ALL the drivers out there. Driving down the road with 80,000 lbs, watching traffic, avoiding women out there who are drinking coffee, putting on makeup and talking on the cell phone, or men who are reading newspapers or shaving while going down the road is not an easy thing to do. Mix in bad weather, construction and supercops, and it's not just a job... it's an adventure! That's for you Hero Jim! :)
Anyhow, hauling grain is not as easy as hauling van or reefer (that's refrigerated for ya'll) freight. Most times with vans/reefers, you pull in, open doors, back into a dock and someone loads/unloads your truck. With hoppers or bulk tanks, there's considerably more work. (at least for our company) We have to unroll the tarp (not bad unless you're short, as I am, and cannot wield the 6 foot bar to go in the crank very easily) crank the hoppers open (ok, that's not bad, like cranking the dolly legs on a van) and monitor the product flow. The fun part begins when you're about half empty. Then you grab your rubber mallet, beat on the sides to get the product to fall (in the late spring to mid-summer with really light product, this can be a nightmare. I have literally beat myself sick trying to get the humidity soaked product to come out.) Once you've moved as much as you can, you have to climb into each of the hoppers separately and sweep them out. Now, these are huge, sloped sections of the trailer (one in front, one in back). To each hopper is attached a rope. In ours, we have knots every 2 feet or so to grab or brace our feet on. This makes it less likely that we slide down the inside of the hopper, landing on product or falling in the pit. Yes I have. It makes a very loud noise as you're falling down the inside of an aluminum hopper trying to catch yourself before breaking your neck on the 5 foot span at the bottom. Picture a person, 5'2, hanging off a rope with one hand, wielding a long push broom with the other sweeping down the sides of a metal trailer. It IS as funny as it sounds. Then you go over to side 2, and do the same. Once you get done, you get to brush all the dust off you (well, much as you can) and roll the tarp back over. Don't forget to close the hoppers, as if you don't, when you load the next time, the product will fall right through and onto the ground. Yes I have. Once, and it never happened again. Nothing like shovelling a couple ton of product to remind you to make sure everything is sealed
Anyhow, the point I was coming to in this long, drawn-out story is that my friend Angie got the opportunity to haul a hopper wagon and feel the rush. She was out West, and had to pick a new hopper wagon up for someone to be brought back to this area. Now, she drives a big ol' Pete, mint green, and when she actually has time to WASH it (hint hint) it is actually quite an awesome looking ride. So she calls me (I'm in Kentucky on my way home) and tells me she's going to be hauling a brand new hopper wagon. I'm so jealous. Wants to know if there's anything tricky about hooking it up - nope, hooks up like any other trailer, blue on left, red on right - and she won't have to mess with the tarp because she's pulling it home empty.
I covered with her the rules of waving: She MUST wave at other hopper haulers. She SHOULD wave at tanker yankers, bull haulers(livestock carriers) and skateboarders(flatbed haulers). She SHOULD NOT wave at daycabs under ANY circumstances and the only Van/Reefer pullers she should wave at are the ones that have above said Really Cool Rides (Petes, KW's, StarCars) but ONLY, I repeat, ONLY if they wave at you first. Now, waving in a big truck is an art. None of this silly hand-flapping-back-and-forth princess wave crap. Grain haulers must lift their hand slowly, as if they're letting you know that they are deigning to acknowledge you exist, and extend only the thumb and first two fingers. (Go ahead, try it, you KNOW you want to.) It takes practice.
I also explained to her the correct dress for a grain hauler. Now, when I was running, we had uniforms, which are perfectly acceptable IF you add the proper accessories. The proper accessories include any or all of the following: work boots (not those motorcycle boots with the silver buckles on them) the kind that you actually have to tie. black shades (no cutesy colored shades/rims - that just looks goofy). Mirrorred shades are perfectly acceptable, long as they are black. The hat. Now, we see a lot of hats out there. These must be low profile, dark colored, and can't have any silly sh** on them. If they have the logo that matches your truck, even better.
In radio conversation, it is crucial that you don't get into silly wars of words with other drivers, it completely destroys the cool reputation. If, however, you are able to deliver a scathing one-liner that completely obliterates some goofy van hauler while maintaining a cool, calm deameanor, by all means - let 'er fly.
You must drive as fast as you can without getting caught. You may NOT drive the speed limit. Totally unacceptable.
You MUST have your mark lights on at any given time when it is very cloudy, or after 5p. That's the whole point of being a grain hauler, to step out all lit up.
In finishing, I let her know that she would be moved up to ultra cool just by the mere fact that she's pulling a hopper wagon. Even more so because she's got a Pete (which, by the way she HAD washed and was looking very sweet!) She just said "Whatever." I told her, "you'll see". Well, I don't know why she continues to argue with me when she KNOWS I am always right.
And I was. She called me a couple hours later. "OMG, you were right! This is very cool. Other people act different when you're hauling a grain wagon." She double-checked on the waving at a bull-hauler (was she supposed to? Yes. Did she? Yes. Did she use the 2 finger wave? Yes. Does she have a hat on? Black Shades? Yes and Yes. She passed, she was a grain hauler for a day.) I was very proud of her. It was actually almost a mom-moment. *pardon me, tissue alert*
I tried to convert her, get her to come work where I drove. She said, "Hell no, I was just running this empty. You guys work too hard." Go figure. That's alright, she's one of the hardest-running drivers I know, male or female!
Ahhh, another happy memory in the mind of Miss Behavin'. Life is short, take 'em while you can!

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